President Bush's Leadership on Missile Defense

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President Bush came into office in January 2001 determined to ensure that America had the defense capabilities it needed to protect our people, our allies, and our interests from the threats of the 21st century. One of those threats is the challenge of ballistic missiles in the hands of rogue states-potentially armed with weapons of mass destruction. President Bush has confronted this threat by deploying missile defense capabilities that have made America more secure. We can see progress in three important respects. First, President Bush cut the Gordian Knot of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty.

The ABM Treaty was a relic of the Cold War-and reflected a strategic logic that had long since outlived its usefulness and relevance. Yet even a decade after the Berlin Wall fell, research and development on ballistic missile defense was held hostage to a treaty that no longer matched the strategic environment we faced. The ABM Treaty was actually making us less safe. As President Bush said in December 2001, the ABM treaty "hinder[ed] our government's ability to develop ways to protect our people from future terrorist or rogue state missile attacks." In response, critics claimed that pulling out of the ABM treaty was "unnecessary and dangerous" and that it would "create a less-secure world." Yet by rebuffing these critics and withdrawing the United States from the ABM Treaty, President Bush became the first leader to act on what we all recognized-that our world had fundamentally changed since the treaty was signed in 1972. His decision was a first step toward securing the country against ballistic missile attack. Second, President Bush delivered capabilities.

He wasn't the first President to propose ballistic missile defenses for the homeland, but he was the first to actually field them. Our nation has now deployed Ground-based interceptors (22 in Alaska and three in California), early warning satellites, land- and sea-based radars, and an integrated command, control, battle management and communication infrastructure. All of this gives us an emergency capability against a limited long-range ballistic missile attack. These deployed capabilities did not exist at the beginning of this Administration. President Bush has also supported development of Airborne Laser and Kinetic Energy Interceptors for boost-phase missile defense, Aegis sea-based and multiple kill vehicle programs for mid-course defense, and Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) and Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) for terminal phase defense. These systems will contribute to an effective layered defense against the constantly evolving ballistic missile threat. Third, President Bush internationalized ballistic missile defense.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, missile defense conjured up a very negative image among some of our allies and friends. They did not recognize that strong missile defenses deployed by the United States also could protect their people-and provide extended deterrence against global threats. President Bush took the initiative to change this situation. He worked diplomatically through our existing bilateral and multilateral alliances. He made the case-with leader after leader-that missile defenses were not just for America, but in the best interest of their nations as well. This diplomatic engagement is working. The United States now has cooperative agreements on missile defense with the United Kingdom, Denmark, Italy, Japan, and Australia. We have signed a missile defense basing agreement with the Czech Republic for the placement of a tracking radar on its territory, and a similar agreement with Poland for a ground-based interceptor site. And we continue to discuss missile defense cooperation with France, Ukraine, Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, and several other nations. This diplomatic effort is ongoing-but already we have seen a sea change in the international perception of missile defense in just the past five or six years. Perhaps nowhere is our success more evident than at NATO. Just a few years ago, NATO was not seriously considering missile defense or ballistic missile threats to its population centers and territory. Yet after a prolonged diplomatic effort by the United States and other allies, in its April 2008 declaration at the Bucharest Summit, the Alliance announced it would explore options to protect all of NATO against such threats.

Furthermore, the Alliance endorsed the U.S. plan for deploying missile defense assets in Europe and recognized the substantial contribution that the U.S. system could make to NATO security. The United States and our allies continue to face a real and growing threat from ballistic missiles launched by rogue regimes like Iran and North Korea. The Iranian threat, in particular, was highlighted in July 2008 when Iran again tested a ballistic missile capable of striking Israel and southeastern Europe. Iran's hostile actions to threaten and intimidate its neighbors as well as its continued defiance of the international community's demand that it halt its suspect uranium enrichment activities illustrate the need for missile defenses, including the planned sites in Europe. The missile defense capabilities we have in place will have to change to counter new types of ballistic missile threats as they develop. America has faced evolutionary threats before-and American innovation and determination have defeated those threats every time. History will credit President Bush with laying a solid foundation for missile defenses since 2001-and giving us capabilities that we lacked before. More work and more leadership will be needed to build on this foundation in the decades ahead so that the United States can continue to build the best possible defenses-to meet the worst imaginable threats.

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Stephen J. Hadley has 1 articles online

Discover more about the growing threat nuclear proliferation is becoming to the U.S. and its allies around the world, and why missile defense is so critical in this new missile age by visiting 33 Minutes - Missile Defense in a New Missile Age. 33 Minutes is a new documentary film about missile defense and why it is so vital to America's future safety.

Stephen J. Hadley serves as the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs (National Security Advisor), directly advising the President on matters relating to national security. During President George W. Bush's first term, he served as the Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor. Mr. Hadley was the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy from 1989-1993. In that position, he was responsible for defense policy toward NATO and Western Europe, nuclear weapons and ballistic missile defense, and arms control. Additionally, he represented then-Secretary of Defense Cheney in talks that resulted in the START I and START II Treaties.

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President Bush's Leadership on Missile Defense

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This article was published on 2010/04/04
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